Panel Discussions Focus on Housing Policy in Next Administration

 

From tax reform to fair housing, the incoming Trump administration and new Congress are likely to adopt policies that could greatly affect housing, particularly affordable subsidized housing, noted speakers at a conference held in Boston last week. Organized by The New England Housing Network, a broad coalition of housing and community development organizations from the six New England states, the December 16th event focused on what the new administration and Congress will “do about the unmet need for affordable housing in our country” and what advocates can do to encourage a robust federal affordable housing agenda in 2017.

Speakers, including national experts, state officials, and leading advocates from throughout New England, touched on a variety of issues, including tax reform, the future of Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs), infrastructure initiatives, anti-poverty programs, and fair housing policies. Everyone noted that many current programs and initiatives are threatened and that much of the discussion is speculative because there is tremendous uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration’s plans, as well as the likelihood that Congress may not support the new administration’s policies. Nevertheless, panelists discussed several potential strategies for bringing together an effective coalition to advocate for affordable housing at a particularly challenging time.

Discussants also noted that Treasury Secretary designate Steven Mnuchin and key members of Congress appear to significantly disagree on GSE reform. Mnuchin has said he is interested in seeing that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are taken out of “government ownership,” restructured, and privatized. However, Congress has not demonstrated support for a “recap and release” of the GSEs. These disagreements may impede any efforts to reform GSEs, noted several panelists.

The conflicting perspectives about both issues within the Republican Party will make it hard to substantially change the tax code or restructure the GSEs, said Benson “Buzz” Roberts, President and CEO of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders. He also noted that “inertia is the most powerful third party in the United States”, and may slow down or even block substantial changes in tax policy or GSE reform in the next several years.